You may have noticed that the Agents & Books schedule has been off a bit. It’s been a hectic few weeks! But I think we’re mostly back on track and I aim to have a robust and exciting Q&A Thursday on actual Thursday, tomorrow, for subscribers. Not a subscriber? Click here!
Authors often ask me if they get to meet their editor before they accept an offer for their book. And the answer is: sometimes! There’s how, when, and why you might meet with an editor before or after they offer on your book.
An Editor Might Reach Out to You Directly
It really does happen! You have probably been writing online or in print somewhere, and they saw it, and they think it could be a book. It is 100% ok to talk to an editor about this, via phone or Zoom or whatever (unlikely in person these days), and hear them out and see if you like what they say. You can ask them questions—about themselves, the process, their ideas, their intentions—and it’s ok if you don’t like the answers. Just because someone asks you to the prom, you don’t have to say yes. That initial call is unlikely to come with an offer and isn’t a guarantee of an offer, but it could be the first step. If you have an agent, tell them before you take the call, and include them in it. If you don’t have an agent, it might be a good time to get that book proposal together and start sending out queries! You can absolutely say that X editor from X house reached out to you to discuss the project. Unless you’re publishing fiction online or in print, this is more likely to happen with non-fiction.
Your Agent Might Set Up Calls When Your Book Goes Out
Some agents offer to editors the chance to talk with their client when their proposal goes out. Sometimes this happens right when the book goes on submission, or sometimes a few weeks after. Sometimes this is done to drum up interest, and sometimes it’s extended to all editors when one reaches out to request a meeting. This is all great! There’s no one way to set up meetings.
It is not my M.O. to offer meetings to editors to drum up interest. The subtext to editors there is this is hot and you want to get in on it. Of course I think about all my clients and submissions, but somethings don’t need meetings to get the editors interested. And an agent cannot overstate the desirability or hotness of any one project lest they become the agent who cried wolf. Some submissions are bigger than others, and well, that’s just life and it’s not just “big” books that sell. I firmly believe that there’s little I can do to make an editor buy a book besides position it correctly and send it to the right people. Nothing I can say will make an editor who is on the fence say yes. A smart agent a long time ago said “maybe equals no” and I really think that’s true. The editor who wants it is going to try to buy it.
So, What Happens in These Meetings Anyway
When an editor reaches out and wants to talk to an author, I set up a phone call or Zoom meeting and we all chat for 30-60 minutes, usually. The editor’s goals in these calls are usually to:
Express interest in the work (they don’t take meetings on books they already know they’re going to pass on)
Ask editorial or clarifying questions about the work
See if their editorial vision aligns with the author’s and they’re all picturing the same book
Impress the author with how cool/knowledgeable/professional/etc they are and how great their publisher is. They may invite marketing or publicity folks on the call to further impress
Get an early feel for how their personality clicks with an author’s. No one has to be BFFs forever here, but everyone does have to work together for several years so it’s good to get a sense of how that will go.
On my end, and the author’s end, we have basically the same goals. We want to be impressed by the editor, and impress them, too. We want to make sure that personalities click (well enough, at least to start) and make sure editorial visions align. No one wants to accept an offer and hear from an editor so, have you considered killing off your main character? No one wants to get too far down the road and realize the editor saw it as one kind of book and the author saw it as another.
Here’s what won’t happen. An editor will not talk money right then and there. They will not say “Great! I love this book. How’s a million dollar advance?” I guess it could happen but I’ve never heard of it. And it is very unlike that you, as the author, will say something that will entirely sink your chances at a deal. Unless you say something like “Gah that is the most moronic idea I’ve ever heard” or “Well, I think the other publisher we talked to will give me more money, so thanks for your time.” I mean, you probably won’t say something like that! But disagreeing with an editor’s suggestion or saying you don’t really see your book the same way isn’t a bad thing to say on a call. You don’t want to sign up with an editor like that anyway! You may choose to say something like “oh that’s a really interesting idea. I’ll have to think about that some more.” on the call and then say to your agent privately “never in a million years will I do that to my book.” and that’s ok, too! Your agent will diplomatically say your editorial visions don’t align and everyone will move on. It’s ok!
Does a Meeting = An Offer? Does No Meetings = No Interested Editors?
No and no. I would say I sell most books without taking meetings or having editors request a meeting. A meeting request is the mark of an interested editor, but it is not a guarantee of an offer, and the absence of meetings doesn’t mean no one wants your book. I often have more meetings for non-fiction projects than novels, but that could just be my projects and my clients. After a meeting, the editor still has to go through all the other steps to acquire a book, including having their colleagues read it if they haven’t already, taking it to their acquisitions meeting, and putting together the offer financials and having them approved. Those specific steps vary a little house to house, but that’s the general shape of them. If all goes well, your meeting might result in an offer, but it’s not a guarantee. And you’re not obligated to accept an offer from someone with whom you’ve met, just like you’re never obligated to accept any offer.
I’ve had authors ask me in the past if the publisher is going to fly them to New York to sign the contract and boy howdy would I love that. Just picture a meeting in (the after times) at the publisher’s nice office, champagne on ice, a popped cork and a signed contract. If only!!! But that doesn’t happen. You may never actually meet your editor face to face, especially if you don’t live in New York or if you don’t have the means to travel here (when it’s safe). And that’s ok! There are plenty of my clients I have never met face to face, even after years of working together! Publishing does not require face to face meetings. You will likely and primarily talk to your team over email. That doesn’t mean no one cares. That’s just how business gets done.
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